Agencies | Governor
Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Agency
Department of Social Services
 
Board
State Board of Social Services
 
chapter
Minimum Standards for Licensed Private Child-Placing Agencies [22 VAC 40 ‑ 131]
Action Adopt new standards for licensed private child-placing agencies.
Stage Proposed
Comment Period Ends 4/1/2011
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4/1/11  3:08 pm
Commenter: Brian Luwis, CEO, America World Adoption

Comments re: Proposed LCPA Standards
 

Standards as a Whole

Having read the entirety of the proposed revisions to the Minimum Standards for Licensed Child Placing Agencies, it would be helpful if the standards were reorganized to reflect the differences between the various child placing services offered. An agency that provide adoption services and an agency that provides foster care services have very different considerations and priorities. Even amongst adoption service providers there are very different circumstances and considerations. Agencies that provide intercountry adoption services have different regulations and issues to consider than agencies that provide domestic adoption services, and the standards should reflect these differences. For example, the training requirements enumerated in 22 VAC 40-131-210 are not equally applicable to foster and adoptive parents. The current organization of the standards makes it difficult for agencies to determine what standards apply to the services they provide and what standards do not.   

22 VAC 40-131-70(A)

We are concerned with the change in the wording of this provision, particularly with respect to 22 VAC 40-131-70(A)(2). The current Minimum Standards (22 VAC 40-130-140(A)) state that applicants and recipients of adoptive services cannot serve as board members for an LCPA “before the final order of adoption is entered” (emphasis added). The proposed regulation, by removing the qualifying language could be read to prohibit any individual who receives adoptive services from an LCPA from later serving on that agency’s board, even after their adoption is final.

 

Our agency has received enormous benefits from allowing adoptive parents to serve on our Board of Directors after their adoption is finalized and they have had ample time to adjust to the challenges of parenting an adoptive child. Because they went through the process, adoptive parents that serve on a Board of Directors can provide valuable insight that the agency can use to improve the quality of its services.

While we agree that current applicants or current service recipients should not be permitted to serve on the Board of Directors, we believe that a better policy would be to allow adoptive parents to serve following finalization of their adoption and an appropriate adjustment period. Also, if a current Board Member wishes to pursue the adoption of a child, we believe that it is reasonable to require that Board Member to go inactive and be prohibited from participating in any agency business during the pendency of their adoption. However, once the adoption is finalized, that Board Member should be allowed to be reinstated.

22 VAC 40-131-70(B)

As a Christian adoption agency, we are concerned about the potential impact 22 VAC 40-131-170(B) would have on our ability to serve children in keeping with our deeply-held Christian values. Specifically, we object to language that would prevent our agency, and other private faith-based agencies, from setting standards of religious faith for families who choose to use our services. We fear that this regulation, if implemented in its current form, could put our agency in conflict with licensing standards and endanger our ability to serve children.

 

Further, although couched in language of equality, we feel that the proposed regulation could actually result in discrimination against agencies that espouse certain religious values or moral beliefs. As such, it is fundamentally at odds with principles of liberty, as well as with the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Of all states in our great union, the Commonwealth of Virginia should stand firm in its support of the right of citizens to exercise their religious freedom, for it was Thomas Jefferson who enacted “The Act For Establishing Religious Freedom” to protect that right.  The Act remains codified as §57.1 of the Code of Virginia, and states that no citizen “shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” This revolutionary document, which is enshrined as law in the Commonwealth of Virginia, unequivocally protects the right of citizens and organizations to profess and practice their religious beliefs without interference from the government. Furthermore, the Act expressly prohibits legislators and bureaucrats from not only limiting the right of citizens to the free exercise of religion, but also from denying citizens and organizations the right to participate in public life and commerce because of their religious beliefs.

 

We are a child placing agencies in the Commonwealth that is founded on a core set of Judeo-Christian values similar to those upon which our Founding Fathers established this nation. The proposed regulation, if enacted, would likely result in a situation where we, and others in our position, would not be allowed the freedom to exercise our religious beliefs. Just last year, Catholic Charities of Washington, D.C. was forced to close its successful foster care and public adoption program after the D.C. City Council legalized same-sex unions and required all entities who contract with the city to provide services to same-sex couples. Catholic Charities was placed in a no-win situation in which they were forced to chose either compromising their faith or closing their doors. Ultimately, after several unsuccessful attempts at compromise with the D.C. City Council, Catholic Charities was forced to close its program and cease providing services to 43 children and their families.

 

As written, the standard currently proposed by the Virginia Department of Social Services would have a much broader impact than the D.C. regulation that forced Catholic Charities to close its foster care program. While the D.C. regulation only impacted services that were provided under contract with the city, allowing Catholic Charities to continue provide private adoption services, the proposed Virginia standard makes full compliance with its terms a prerequisite for even obtaining a license to operate. Thus, not only would religiously-affiliated LCPAs be prevented from obtaining state and county contracts to provide foster care and other public services, but we would also be prevented from providing any child-placing services, including intercountry and private adoptions.

 

We recognize that there are many different opinions on the subjects of religion, sexual orientation, and family status as they relates to the care of children. As a private agency, we simply ask for the opportunity to serve children in keeping with our deeply-held religious beliefs. Currently, the Commonwealth of Virginia boasts many private child-placing agencies that each hold different opinions on this topic and serve diverse segments of the population. It is our belief that children are better served when there are more advocates acting on their behalf rather than fewer. Unfortunately, the language of this standard could be interpreted in a way that undermines the good work being done on behalf of children by faith-based agencies throughout the Commonwealth.

 

We ask that the proposed additional language be stricken from the standard so that Virginia regulations reflect the principles of religious freedom enshrined in the law, as well as with federal anti-discrimination policy. Title IV-E, Sec. 471(a)(18) of the Social Security Act prohibits discrimination in child-placing activities based on the “race, color, or national origin” of the applicant or child. Federal law does not even mention religion, sexual orientation, or family status. However, if the Department still wishes to enact a policy that is broader than federal regulations, we strongly support and urge the Department to include a “conscience clause” creating an exemption for faith-based agencies to serve clients who share their beliefs and values. Such an exemption would allow private, faith-based agencies to continue to operate without having to compromise their deeply-held religious beliefs. A “conscience clause” would also allow more agencies, representing a diverse cross-section of the population, to work towards the shared goal of placing children in stable, loving homes.

We must remember that our goal, above all else, is to serve and protect children. Before enacting such a fundamental change to our law, we should ask whether the change will do more to help or harm children. This sweeping, unconstitutional provision, by endangering the licenses of the many faith-based agencies serving children throughout the Commonwealth, is clearly harmful to our shared goal.

22 VAC 40-131-170(B)

This standard also prohibits discrimination based on “family status” that would “delay or deny a child’s placement.” If “family status” is defined to mean whether or not an applicant is married, single, divorced, etc., then this standard is too broad. Social workers should be allowed to consider family status in light of the background and needs of the child to be placed. The fact of the matter is that there are many situations where placing a particular child with a single applicant would not be in the child’s best interests. Social workers should be allowed to consider family status when considering whether or not an applicant is capable of providing the level of care required for parenting a foster or adoptive child. Furthermore, this regulation is contrary to §63.2-1225 of the Code of Virginia, which prohibits the adoption of a child by unmarried couples or cohabitating individuals.

22 VAC 40-131-180(J)(2)(e)(4)

We suggest that this standard be edited to reflect the differences between a child in a foster placement and a child in an adoptive placement. First, we agree that corporal punishment should be prohibited in all foster placements as well as in adoptive placements prior to the entry of the final order. However, we feel that some distinction should be made between these stages of the process.

 

The Code of Virginia currently does not prohibit the use of reasonable, non-abusive corporal punishment by parents as a means of disciplining their children. However, the language of this regulation would require unequal treatment of biological and adoptive children. Although we acknowledge (and inform parents) that corporal punishment is often not appropriate for an adoptive child given that child’s background, the law itself should treat biological children and adoptive children equally.

We support the inclusion of a standard requiring that adoptive parents receive education on disciplinary theories and how different methods of discipline would affect their adoptive child considering his/her unique background. For many adopted children, this will mean that parents will be advised that corporal punishment is inappropriate for their child. For others, it may be that something as seemingly innocuous as a timeout could do more harm than good. Rather than mandating a particular disciplinary theory, the law should recognize that each child is different, and what is appropriate for one may not be appropriate for another. Adoptive parents, then, should be provided with all the information in order to allow them to make an informed decision about how best to discipline their children in accordance with each child’s background and needs.

22 VAC 40-131-190

Will these requirements be in effect for both foster and adoptive homes? If so, this is a significant change from current standards and practice with respect to the approval of adoptive homes.

22 VAC 40-131-210

The pre-service training requirements fail to recognize the differences between foster and adoptive children and their families, and even between families of children who are adopted domestically and families of internationally adopted children. As an agency that currently only offers intercountry adoption services, we do not provide services related to the transition of youth to independent living (22 VAC 40-131-210(A)(8)) nor do we deal with situations where reunification is a service goal (22 VAC 40-131-210(A)(5)). Further, many of the training requirements do not apply to our international programs because of the nature of intercountry adoption. Training standards should be edited to reflect the differences between the programs offered by child-placing agencies.  

CommentID: 16665